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First weekly container ship from China docks at Port Tampa Bay

Shanghai-based Cosco Shipping Lines, one of the largest container ship carriers on the planet, aims to move about 500 containers through Port Tampa Bay every Monday.

TAMPA — The future docked at Port Tampa Bay Tuesday morning, its deck stacked six deep with shipping containers full of furniture, clothing, electronics, food and solar panels.

Port officials welcomed the container ship Piraeus (pronounced Pi-RAY-us), the first vessel to arrive as part of a long-sought weekly container service by Cosco Shipping Lines, based in Shanghai and one of the world's largest container carriers. The Piraeus left China in late December on a month-long journey that took it through the Panama Canal and to Houston and Mobile, Ala., en route to Tampa.

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"We've been dealing with the Port Tampa Bay people for years," Cosco executive vice president Howard Finkel said in a telephone interview. "There's local cargo. There's Orlando cargo. There's cargo going to South America. There's a lot of different channels here that are interesting to us, and now seemed like the right time. We have enough shipper feedback where we think this is going to be a very successful port of call for us."

COSCO aims to move about 500 containers a week through Tampa. Most will arrive on Mondays after a 31-day voyage from China. Exports from Tampa, generally expected to consist more of raw products than consumer goods, will take 27 days to reach China on the return voyage.

The port, which invested $24 million in two, new giant gantry cranes to load and unload bigger ships, says the new service via Tampa can cut shipping time by a third and costs by an average of $800 per container for companies along the Interstate 4 corridor that now ship goods through ports like Savannah, then truck containers into the state. Companies expected to benefit from the new service include Rooms to Go, W.S. Badcock Furniture and Amalie Oil, and port officials are looking for their container business to continue growing.

"We are happy we are finally getting bigger ships," International Longshoreman's Association Local 1402 financial secretary Stephen Hall said. "That is what we have been waiting on."

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Times photographer Chris Urso contributed to this report. Contact Richard Danielson at or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times